From My Cold Dead Hands

Today, in a 5-4 decision that should surprise absolutely no one, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gun ownership is an individual right. I know. “Duh,” right? Apparently, this is only news to constitutional scholars and the court system that draws it’s members from them.

Apart from restating an obvious, on the ground fact, this ruling once again proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that John Roberts and Sam Alito are the bought, paid-for, and kept whores of the knee-jerk, Wrong Wing, conservative ideologues who handed them their jobs in the first place. {More…Within the Empire}

Fantastic Four (2005)

Strike a pose! It's all you're really here for.I’ll be honest with you: I never gave a toss about the Fantastic Four. I know that’s heresy to a certain number of nerds and I don’t care. Their family comradeship, good natured bickering, and overriding message of wholesomeness never sat well with me. Like Pizza Hut pizza, its initial beguiling flavor disguises stomach-churning ookiness. Leave it to Hollywood to pick out the Four’s most nausea-inducing elements and assemble them into an annoyingly bland film.

Credit where it’s due: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revolutionized the superhero team back in the 1960s, elevating the genre to a new era of psychological realism…even as they stuffed it with  alien invasions, world-conquering dictators, and evil siblings/parents/college roommates inexplicably returned from the dead. For my money, Lee and Kirby did a much better job of dysfunctional superhero family-creation two years later, when they used what two years of churning out comics had taught them to create the original X-Men{More}

Yongary Monster from the Deep (1967)

Every happy couple has their wedding in a matte painting.We open at a wedding as the bride and groom depart in their shark-faced car, a gleaming phallic rocket wishing them well from the background. Must be the late-1960s, and this must be Korea’s answer to Godzilla and Gamera‘s breakaway success. This is Yongary, a Sino-Korean co-production conceived with the land beyond the sea (the East Sea, that is) firmly in mind. Thus Yongary‘s many, many problems. All of which are accentuated by a horrible dubbing job and an injudicious use of TV aspect ratios.

For now, let’s examine the families. Yongary leaves us no choice, unceremoniously dumping its audience into their after-wedding gossip session. Recounting the catty babble would be tedious, so I’ll give you the gist. We’re to understand the Happy Couple are On-na and a character I labeled Major Tom (since, in the English dub, we never learn his name). Major Tom’s friend, Ilo (present at the wedding) immediately reveals himself to be a Korean Jeff Goldblum figure twenty years ahead of his time: the dedicated-but-socially-inept Scientist who’s dating On-na’s sister, Su-na. Su-na, we soon learn, is in no hurry to marry our Scientist. Falling in love with him would apparently “be like falling in love with a computer, almost.” You can imagine Ilo thinking, Thanks, Su-na. For being made of Bitch. {More}

Exploitation Filmmakers: Viral Marketing, Old-School

Amazing what you find in your Inbox. I find it to be a continuing source of synchronicity. Here I am, staring at my site statistics page, contemplating all the usual viral marketing methods. Are they genuinely effective at reaching mass audiences in a cloistered, disaffected age such as ours? How does one put butts in seats when everyone seems content to isolate themselves into provincial, mutually-antagonistic sub-cultures?

Pondering all this, I stumble across a bit of spam from Franklin, Indiana’s own B Movie Celebration. Among the heads highlighted on their Spotlight page, I found the life story of one Howard W. “Kroger” Babb. Born in Lees Creek, Ohio, 1906, Babb earned his nickname working at a grocery story. He fell in with Cox and Underwood, those legendary roadshow movie makers, at some time in the 30s,  and cut his teeth in 1938 shilling a best-forgotten portrait of Ozarks Mountain life called Child Bride . With Child Bride, Babb combined the usual exploitation tactic of aping a salacious film’s “educational” value with an old fashioned, Midwestern, carny barker’s style. This generated far more denero than a no-budget morality play about hicks who marry underage girls (staring a twelve-year-old Shirley Mills, two years out from her role in The Grapes of Wrath) would seem to warrant.

Child Bride‘s trailer showcases Babb’s early work. Incidentally, Babb met his wife during the film’s distribution, who later in life described the film as “the most atrocious thing I ever saw”. {More}

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

I could care less about Robert Downey Jr.’s personal reformation into an Action Hero and franchise flagbearer. He must be doing something right, though damned if I can find two movie critics who’ll agree on just what that is. Most dismissed his turn as Sherlock Holmes, and dismissed this film as a bit of mindless fluff meant to tide us over until Iron Man 2. Read Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll find this film suffers from the usual consensus: it’s a bit of fun, sure, but in no sense civilized. And it ruined Sherlock Holmes.

Both of these readings are false, the product of a false consciousness that lets actors and directors walk away with all the credit or the blame. This ignores the real lesson Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories teach because it has to do with plot…and if that were important we’d all be watching smarter films (instead of, say, Iron Man 2). All of Doyle’s stories are wound Swiss watches of plotting, simultaneously illustrating and espousing upon Sherlock Holmes’ vaunted methods of Reasoning. Tonight, then, let us assay this Sherlock Holmes‘ plot, in the hope of understand why this film managed to disappoint almost everyone who saw it. {More}

Attack of the Super Monsters (1982)

"Death! Kill! Destroy!" Not exactly, "Let slip the dogs of war," but under the circumstances...If you’re at all like me you probably wasted most of your childhood watching Super Sentai: imported, live-action, Japanese superhero shows, repackaged for American audiences. The most famous examples were brought to America’s shores by the Egyptian-born warhawk Haim Saban, but he is only the tip of a good-sized professional iceberg. As anyone who’s seen Prince of Space knows, Japanese superhero shows have not moved along all that much since the 1950s, and neither has the process of Westernizing them.

Tonight’s subject is a relic from the first wave of Super Sentai success. In 1975, Toei Company’s Secret Squadron Go Rangers proved that children will watch just about anything – especially if that anything involves a team of costumed heroes and the advanced technology they employ  to defend the Earth from armies of giant monsters. While we American children languished in the vapid hellhole called “the 70s”, our Japanese counterparts basked in the glory of an emerging genre…one that  exhausted itself almost as soon as it cohered. Successive series followed Goranger annually, and someone over at Tsuburaya Productions (makers of Ultraman – which was, until that time, Japan’s undisputed king of superherodome) must’ve seen green. Someone (producers Akira and Nobor Tsuburaya, probably) must’ve wondered how best to cash in on this rising wave of  superhero squadron shows? Then the light bulb moment came. “We’ll re-editing old footage from crap TV shows and replace all the actors with cheap, South Korean animation. Provide the illusion that this is some kind of real Super Sentai show…rubes won’t know we hit ’em ’til they’re bleeding on their carpets.” {More}